For his second of three consecutive nights at the Dakota, Prince delivered a crowd-pleasing set that included a few lengthy, funky medleys of covers and some satisfying hits. The show was so electrifying, in fact, that after several years of purple-hued gossip, sightings, and speculation cluttering up the Prince dialog in the Twin Cities, it almost felt too good to be true.
The 11 p.m. show began with his six-piece horn section marching out NOLA-style and cycling through a funky, complex melody, and they were quickly followed by a drummer, bassist, guitarist, and three back-up singers who launched into the night’s first groove. Prince himself emerged on the dark stage soon after and leaned into a microphone set up at a pair of keyboards.
“I dare you to sit down,” he teased, egging on the crowd and demanding that everyone get up and dance, and then launched the band into a blazing, bopping cover of Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody” that got the entire room springing dutifully to its feet.
“You better call the baby-sitter,” he joked, leaving most of the vocal melody to his trio of back-up singers and half-scatting, half-rapping his way through the first tune. He switched to all-the-way rapping on the second song, 1994 single “Days of Wild,” and kept the jokes coming, at one point pausing to admire Cassandra O’Neal’s tempestuous piano playing and remarking, “It’s windy outside… It’s windy and Lisa outside!”
Prince kept the lights low for the first part of the show, with only a few candles lighting up the overflowing stage. As with the previous night, he paired his all-black wardrobe with a pair of gold-and-lucite platform shoes that blinked red lights on and off every time he moved, and the dark stage only accentuated his one-of-a-kind footwear.
At the start of new song, “Chapters and Verse,” he proclaimed it “medicine time,”strapping on his guitar for the first time. “This is the medicine show.” Thursday’s late show would mark the first time that night that the gifted axe man actually played his guitar, and the 275-person crowd clearly relished the opportunity to see him solo from such a close vantage point.
At the end of that jam Prince startled the crowd with his first of two psych-outs, waving and saying “Thank you, good night” despite only being about 25 minutes into his set. Many in the crowd tentatively took their seats and eyed each other quizzically as the band followed him off stage, and though the three back-up vocalists sizzled on their cover of Lianne La Havas’s “Lost and Found,” it was hard to ignore the sinking feeling that Prince’s time on stage might already be through.
But lo and behold, it turned out to be Prince’s way of giving the audience a chance to catch its breath before pulling out the highlight of his 70-minute set.
Prince jogged excitedly back out on stage and sat down behind his keyboard once again, and the audience responded immediately as he began playing the opening strains of “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Prince and backing vocalist Shelby J traded verses and performed an absolutely stunning rendition of the tune, and at one point Prince got so swept up in the moment that he lept up from his piano bench and bounded across the stage to share the mic with Shelby J. Whereas most of the other songs of the night were drawn out into improvisational jams, Prince played this one straight, and Shelby J’s contributions to the song were flat-out incendiary.
The rest of the band returned to power through a medley that started with his recent “Act of God” and wound through snippets of songs by Janet Jackson (“What Have You Done for Me Lately”) and funk group Stargard (“Which Way is Up?”). At one point, he sent the horn players on a parade through the venue and then launched into a rockabilly guitar solo that sounded straight out of a country-western tune, a testament to just how playful Prince was feeling at this “Jam” show. He also brought the house lights up and peered through his round sunglasses out at the crowd, then looked down and softly said, “I got shy, turn the lights off again.”
At the end of that final extended jam the house lights came up and Prince’s DJ Rashida fired up her turntables, but the Purple One wasn’t done quite yet. After a pause, the band reemerged and Prince led his crew through an extra-funky, extra-danceable rendition of “Controversy.”
Could the set have been longer? Sure; 70 minutes isn’t long for the $100-$150 cost of tickets. But as fans in the audience learned on Thursday night, a chance to see Prince in this good of a mood and in this small of a space is priceless.
Days of Wild
Chapters and Verse
Somebody Else (back-up vocalists only)
Nothing Compares 2 U
Act of God/What Have You Done For Me Lately/Which Way is Up?